It’s not often you talk about cold water fly fishing in the southern part of the US. But along the border of Tennessee and North Carolina is a true fly fishing gem called Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP). With more than a half-dozen trips into GSM, I’m feeling confident enough to point you to exactly where to hook into some beautiful finned friends.
Where to Fly Fish in the Great Smoky Mountains
1. The Little River Watershed– Miles of Fly Water
You’re probably going to call this cheating, but I’m going to break the Little River up into three places to fly fish. With great access and plenty of stocked trout migrating up from Townsend you can stop at a dozen turn-outs and cast a fly with a great chance of hooking into rainbow or brown trout. Because the water close to Townsend can get crowded, sometimes I like switch up my offering. I’ll tie a streamer (link to article) on instead of a Dry fly or Nymph.
When fishing a streamer look for the deeper runs below a pool. I’ve found that using a methodical fanned approach to swinging streamers through the run works best.
Where to Fly Fish on the Little River with a Fly Rod
Favorite Flies for the Little River
Throughout this article, I’ll talk about the Dry-Dropper setup that is the most popular method of fishing in this region. Flies I use in this stretch of water are:
- Small size 16-18 beadhead price nymphs
- Size 10 Stimulator Dry Fly
- For Streamers, go with a size 8 to 10 white woolly bugger – something with a little bit of flash is great. The trout in this area haven’t seen or eaten “natural” food.
2. Little River Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area – Easy Fishing
If you’ve only got a hour or so to cast a fly line, go to the picnic area at Metcalf Bottoms. This has become part of my routine when I arrive into town. First, I’ll stop at Little River Outfitters to get my license then drive here. The excitement of hooking into a brown or rainbow trout after a +9 hour drive is how everyday should end.
Where to Fly Fish at Metcalf Bottoms
With restrooms, parking and some picnic tables to relax on, it’s easy to spend more than an hour here. Fish all the likely spots; runs and pools. Start fishing at mile marker 5.05 and work your way past the picnic area.
Flies for the Little River – Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area
I’ve had good luck with ants here. I like them a little bit bigger, size 16 with a small piece of white foam (it helps me see them)
- Parachute Adams, size 14.
- Neversink Caddis, size 14 in yellow.
- Squimy Wormy, size 12 red.
3. Abrams Creek – Fly Fishing in the Upper Reaches
Abrams Creek is a unique river for the Smoky Mountains, while most of the creeks get water from run-off with just enough spring water to cool things down, Abrams Creek gets mostly spring water which keeps it cool and acid free. These two factors conspire to provide a chance at getting a true trophy for a small mountain stream.
This stream is predominately rainbow trout with some brook trout found in the tributaries flowing into the stream. I shouldn’t do this, but I’m going to provide a little secret. The crowds can be a problem on the stream because of it being so accessible with convenient parking and easy hiking. In the summer, on Wednesday and Saturday mornings the park closes Cades Cove to allow walkers and bikers to experience the loop without cars crowding the roads.
Seriously consider camping out on either Friday or Tuesday night in the park and fishing while the roads are closed to cars.
Where to Find the Fish on Abrams Creek
A couple horseshoe bends on Abrams Creek make it easy to cover a lot of water without traveling to far into the bush.
Flies to use on Abrams Creek
The trout can get a little bit bigger in this oxygen rich, cold water. Rainbows are the ticket, so setup a dry-dropper.
- A bushy Yellow Stone Fly (well-greased to stay floating high) in size 10.
- On the back of the Stone, tie a Beadhead (tungsten) Pheasant Tail (PT) size 16. West Prong Little Pigeon River
4. Tuckasegee River – Fly Fish Through the Park and Bryson City
What could be better than a short walk from the Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians to the Tuckasegee River to cast a fly? The Bryson City, NC is a mini fly fishing mecca. At the gates of the Smoky Mountains the local guide Mac Brown teaches casting and fly fishing just outside of town.
When I asked Mac what fly he recommends while fly fishing in GSMNP his response surprised me. Presentation, Presentation Presentation will always trump the fly pattern.Mac Brown, Guide and Casting Instructor. Bryson City, NC
The Tuskasegee which isn’t technically in the park is one of those rivers that needs to be fly fished. Given the proximity to GSM and the conviences Surrounding the river it just makes sense to toss a fly.
Where to Fly Fish on the Tuskasegee
Flies for the Tuskasegee River
In my interview with Mac, he recommended sticking with the classics.
- Elk Hair Caddis
- Parachute Adams
- Pheasant Tail Nymphs
- Hare’s Ears
5. Middle Prong Little Pigeon River – Shhhh… Fly Fishers shouldn’t hear about this spot.
If you’re looking to get away from the crowds, I’ve got the spot for you. The Middle Prong Little Pigeon River is filled with rainbows, but like any of the spots I’m pointing out it’s easy to over fish this. Luckily, you MUST be in good shape for this small gorge. Rattle snakes are common sunning themselves among the boulders too, so watch your step.
Pack a lunch for what might be an all-day event. But if you make a couple casts into the first one or two fishy pocket water and come up empty handed you might as well climb out of the gorge and find another spot on this list. When your first through this water though, enjoy a great day. Remember, it’s tough getting out of this gorge, so let someone know where your going.
Where to Fly Fish on Middle Pigeon River
I’m only pointing to the parking lot, you got to do the rest for this little piece of fly fishing paradise.
6. Abrams Creek for Catching SMALLMOUTH BASS on a Fly
I’ve got to have at least one spot for smallmouth bass enthusiasts. Abrams Creek for a couple miles up from Chilhowee Lake has some of the highest smallmouth bass populations in the park. Since access is limited and most folks are chasing trout, you’ve got a great chance to catch a bass in the +2-pound class.
Use the proven flies here like; closures, crayfish and poppers (with white rubber legs). Reds, whites, chartreuse and blue are the colors of choice.
This stream is on the far west side of the GSMNP. To find access turn onto Abrams Creek road off Happy Valley Road. You’ll find a couple pull offs relatively close to the creek, but be prepared to do some bushwhacking.
The park service has this spot identified HERE – LINKS to National Park https://www.nps.gov/grsm/learn/nature/smallmouth-bass.htm
7. Chambers Creek – Remote Fly Fishing
If you’ve got a boat, kayak or canoe and a couple days, this might be the place to go. I’m not going to sugar coat this.. a motor would be nice. It’s about 4 miles by water, but once you get there you’ll be delighted to have a remote backcountry campsite #98 (linked to Google Map)and Chambers Creek to yourself.
Because you’ll be at Chambers Creek for an extended amount of time, take two fly rods, one for dry fly fishing and another long nymphing rod for fly fishing the pocket water. Another option would be the Temple Fork Outfitters DRIFT (link to Amazon). With the flexibility to add sections to increase the rod length from 9′ to 10′ and then to 12 feet 6″. I’ve found taking the Drift allows me to reduce the amount of stuff I need to carry.
8. Chataloochee Creek – Another Hidden GSM Fly Fishing Gem
Jumping over to East side of the park is Cataloochee Creek. What’s cool about the lower sections of this creek is that you’ll have plenty of casting room. In fact, it’s better to call the Cataloochee a small river. I would describe Chataloochee as perfect brown trout water for the fly fisher.
Something to look for while fly fishing in the Chataloochee Valley is ELK. In 2001 the park service re-introduced 25 Elk into the valley. If you’d like to read more about Elk in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park – here’s a link.
9. Raven Fork – Discovering Fly Fishing Heaven
The Raven Fork Watershed is remote, which lends it to be a solitude camping and fly fishing area. If you’ve got a couple days to spend in the solitude of the Great Smoky Mountains you should consider this the spot.
Here are the GPS coordinates for Raven Fork – 35.609734, -83.254868
Raven Fork is home to Brook and Rainbows. The upper reaches are home to beautiful brook trout that eagerly snap at flies. The lower section is rainbow trout water. The only thing limiting you to catching trout on a fly is finding some room to cast. Dapping pocket water (Link to Dapping) is the preferred method. Since these fish don’t see a fly or people very often your catch rates should be above average.
10. Deep Creek – If You’re Hunting for Brown Trout on a Fly
From the confluence of Hammer, Indian and Deep Creek downstream this is a large creek by GSMNP standards. Because the stream has easy access and is frequented by tubers in the summer months, the browns are a little wary.
Evening fly fishing for browns is best with streamers and dry flies when the hatch is on. Brown trout can be difficult to catch, so don’t be discouraged, you’ve got to put in the time to get a reward on Deep Creek.
11. Big Creek – If You Love Pocket Water Fly Fishing
Big Creek has some natural barriers that restrict access. High gradient and car sized boulders protect the beautiful pocket water. But these barriers are what makes seeking out this water special. Once you bushwhack your way to the stream just south of Big Creek Tailhead the odds are you’ll be one of only a few to toss a fly to these trout.
Rainbows are the predominate species and they are all wild. Hooking into a feisty “bow” in this current will test your skills at mountain fly fishing. While in the area investigate all the tributaries that flow into this watershed. Swallow and Gunter Creeks come to mind and will provide a fix to your brook trout addiction.
12. Twentymile Creek – Mixing the Appalachian Trail and Fly Fishing
You can catch a glimpse of the creek while hiking Twentymile Creek Trail but descending the banks through rhododendrons does allow for upstream travel in the stream itself. What I love about this water is that the trail is relatively close and yet not many folks dip a fly into the water.
This is one stream that I’m not giving much directions too, you’ll have to work on the limited description provided. If you meet someone hiking and carrying a fly rod, say hello. If it’s me, I’ll show you my creek entrance point, but at that point you’ll know I’ve already fished this water.
Hint check out these numbers 35.470845, -83.863441
Do I Need a Fishing Licenses to Fish in GSMNP?
YES, a valid state license is needed to fish in the National Park. Something that is kind of cool is you only need ONE state (either TN or NC) license to fish anywhere in the park. So, if you have a TN fishing license it’s fine to cross the border into NC within the park and still legally fish.
Something to think about is that artificial flies or lures with a single hook are only allowed. You can fish with two single hook flies on a line though.
What kind of Fly Fishing Gear for the Smoky Mountains
Most of the water in the park is fast moving pocket water. Some would say getting a short fly rod is recommended for scrambling around on boulders and fighting with bank side rhododendrons, but I’ve found fishing with a longer fly rod actually works better. A 10 foot, 3 weight rod has been what I’ve been using for the last couple years with great success. Read this article on recommended Nymphing Fly Rod, Reel and Line.
What Kind of Fly Fishing Setup for the Smokies
Without a doubt the dry dropper setup is the most effective rig for hooking trout on a fly. A dry-dropper is perfect for the fast pocket water with short drifts you’ll find in the park.
Below is a sketch of what this setup is and I’ve also linked to a Video How to Tie a Dry Fly – Dropper. https://youtu.be/Owtx8XJOPBo
What Flies Should I use in the Smoky Mountains
The season and water conditions can play into what flies you fill your fly box with, but below is a list of my go to flies. Dry Dropper rigs are a GSM favorite, you can also stick nymphs through the fast water. To learn a little more about high-sticking, I really recommend this popular article I wrote: What is High Sticking in Fly Fishing
Flies for the Smoky Mountains
- Neversink Yellow Sally, a size 14 works perfect. The yellow foam floats most
- Stimulators – big bushy
- Bushy Adams
- Yellow Stone Fly
- Tungsten Bead PT
- Bead Head Prince Nymph
- Squirmy Wormy
Where to Stay When Fishing in the Smoky Mountains
- Docks Motel, located right on the Little River in Townsend. Docks is a super clean no-frills motel. The folks at the desk are always accommodating and even give a discount for paying cash. As an added bonus you can cast a fly line 50 yards from your room door to stocked trout. LINK – https://docksmotel.com/
- If you’d like a little bit of luxury closer to some civilization Buckberry Creek Lodge is the place to stay. I’ve personally met the owner Buddy, and can say he runs the lodge like it is his home. Be treated to gourmet meals while still being surrounded by 26 acres of forested Smoky Mountain beauty. Link to – Buckberry Creek Lodge
Official References for Fly Fishing in the Smoky Mountains National Park
The National Park Service has a wealth of information about GSMNP. Find surveys, locations and warnings at https://www.nps.gov/grsm/index.htm
You can purchase your fishing license online at the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. https://www.tn.gov/twra/fishing.html. An older map of the native Brook Trout watersheds can be found at this link. https://www.tn.gov/content/dam/tn/twra/documents/Trout_Map_Side2.pdf
If you’re traveling north up through North Carolina check out the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. (Link)
Fly Fishing Guides for the Great Smoky Mountain National Park
- David Knapp: Wow, I have learned so much about fly fishing in these waters from David. I can’t say enough good things about him. If you’re on the Tennessee side of the park contact him at TROUT ZONE ANGLERS. You can also read more about David in my article Guide Spotlight – David Knapp
- Mac Brown, Certified Casting Instructor, Author, Instructor to Fly Fishing Guides and also named Angler of the Year for Field and Stream. Mac has touched a little bit of everything in the fly fishing industry. – Link Mac Brown Fly Fishing
Popular Fly Shops Supporting the Smoky Mountains
- Little River Outfitter: this shop is what I would dream of running. Located in Townsend, TN. Little River Outfitter has quality equipment, knowledgeable advice and a perfect location at the gates of the National Park They do a thriving business at the shop and online – Little River Outfitters
- Located in Gatlinburg TN – Smoky Mountain Angler is another fly shop that caters to the GSMNP Anglers. Name brand gear and locally tied flies.
- On the southern side of the park in Cheerokee NC is Rivers Edge Outfitters with guided trips and fly fishing gear. https://shop.wncfishing.com/